Tom Catena

Last updated

Tom Catena
Tom Catena 2018 stamp of Armenia (cropped).jpg
Born (1964-04-27) 27 April 1964 (age 59)
Education Duke University (MD) [1]
Brown University (AB) [2]
Occupation(s) Medical doctor, surgeon, Aurora Humanitarian Initiative Chair
Medical career
InstitutionsMother of Mercy Hospital

Thomas Gerard Catena is an American physician who has been practising in Gidel in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan since 2008. [3] [1] [4] On May 28, 2017, he was awarded the second annual Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, receiving a $100,000 grant and an additional one million dollars for him to distribute to three humanitarian organizations. [5] He has been likened to the 20th-century medical missionary Albert Schweitzer. [2] The New York Times has published instructions on how to donate to Catena. [6] In 2018, Dr. Catena was appointed Chair of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative. [7]


Early life and education

Born in Amsterdam, New York as the son of an Italian-American judge, Gene Catena, and his wife Nancy, Catena grew up with six brothers and a sister. His brother Paul is a Catholic priest. [8]

Catena graduated as the salutatorian from Amsterdam High School and later with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Brown University in 1986. [9] While at Brown, Catena played nose guard on the Brown Bears football team [10] and was a member of the Delta Phi fraternity. In 1987, he spent a year as English teacher in Tokyo. He later received his medical degree from Duke University, [1] on a U.S. Navy scholarship. [9]


During his fourth year at Duke, Catena went on his first mission to Kenya in 1992. [2] After graduating, he completed a one-year internship in internal medicine at the Naval Medical Center San Diego in 1993 and later joined the U.S. Navy. For the next four years, [11] he served as a flight surgeon; in this capacity, he was stationed at the Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia from 1994 to 1995. After his discharge from the Navy in 1997, Catena began a postgraduate residency in family medicine at Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana, while also participating in one-month medical mission trips to Guyana (1997) and Honduras (1998). [9]

When he finished his residency in 1999, Catena decided to continue volunteering with the Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) and spent two and a half years as a missionary doctor at Our Lady of Lourdes Mutomo Hospital in the rural settlement of Mutomo, Kenya. From 2002 until 2007, he worked as a consultant at the private St Mary's Mission Hospital in Nairobi. [4]

Activities in Sudan

With CMMB, Catena volunteered to help the Roman Catholic Diocese of El Obeid establish the Mother of Mercy Hospital in the Nuba Mountains, which was built in 2007 by Bishop Macram Max Gassis and first launched its operations in March 2008. [9] The region has been an area of active conflict since the mid-1980s, with a short period of peace from 2002 until early 2011, [12] and Catena is the only surgeon for the surrounding population of 750,000 people. [13] The hospital's catchment area covers roughly one third of South Kordofan, equivalent in size to the entire country of Austria. [14] Patients frequently travel by foot or hitchhiking for up to a week to reach the Mother of Mercy Hospital. At any one time it has between 300 and 450 in-patients. Patients visit the hospital for ailments varying from fractures, diarrhea, thyroid disease and cancer but also an increasing number of victims of bombing attacks or malnourishment spurred on by the war. [1] [12] [14]

An abandoned village in the Nuba Mountains from the previous civil war. Villagers would move up in the mountains to avoid the militias. Abandoned Nuba village.jpg
An abandoned village in the Nuba Mountains from the previous civil war. Villagers would move up in the mountains to avoid the militias.

Humanitarian aid is restricted, a ban which Catena defies. [13] Very few NGOs still operate due to the Khartoum government's blockade. [1] Since 2012 aid is not expressly forbidden, but it is in practice impossible as volunteers may not travel into the region. [1] German Emergency Doctors and Samaritan's Purse had a presence as of 2013, but employed no trained medical doctors in the region. [1] Limited by his surroundings, [15] Catena sometimes uses decades-old treatments, and earns $350 a month while being on call 24/7. [16] He engages the local community in the work as nurses and other assistive personnel, [1] [2] including through trainings in Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda.

The Mother of Mercy Hospital was subject to bombings by Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jets operated by the Sudanese Air Force in May 2014, [17] although at the time no one was injured. [14] [1] In preparation in case of bombings the compound now has a number of foxholes where patients and staff can flee for the duration. [14]

Catena credits his Catholic faith for his work, and says he is inspired by St. Francis of Assisi. [1] [16] He is known by locals as "Dr. Tom" and is widely respected by the population. A local Muslim chief said of Catena, "He's Jesus Christ", owing to Catena constantly healing the sick, helping the lame walk, and making the blind see. [16]

Since 2016, Catena has been serving on the selection committee for the annual Gerson L'Chaim Prize for Outstanding Christian Medical Mission Service. In 2018, he was appointed chair of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, a position he holds in addition to his activities in Sudan.


Personal life

Since May 2016, Catena has been married to his wife Nasima, a nurse. [11] [26] They have a son.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Médecins Sans Frontières</span> International humanitarian medical non-governmental organisation

Médecins Sans Frontières, named Doctors Without Borders in English, is a charity that provides humanitarian medical care. It is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) of French origin known for its projects in conflict zones and in countries affected by endemic diseases. The organisation provides care for diabetes, drug-resistant infections, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, tropical and neglected diseases, tuberculosis, vaccines and COVID-19. In 2019, the charity was active in 70 countries with over 35,000 personnel; mostly local doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, logistical experts, water and sanitation engineers, and administrators. Private donors provide about 90% of the organisation's funding, while corporate donations provide the rest, giving MSF an annual budget of approximately US$1.63 billion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James Orbinski</span> Canadian physician, humanitarian activist, author and leading scholar in global health

James Jude Orbinski, is a Canadian physician, humanitarian activist, author and leading scholar in global health. Orbinski was the 2016-17 Fulbright Visiting professor at the University of California, Irvine, and as of September 1, 2017, he is professor and inaugural director of the Dahdaleh Institute of Global Health Research at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He was previously the CIGI Chair in Global Health Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and Wilfrid Laurier University (2012-2017), Chair of Global Health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (2010-2012) and full professor at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto (2003-2012), where he was the founding Saul Rae Fellow at Massey College. Orbinski's current research interests focus on the health impacts of climate change, medical humanitarianism, intervention strategies around emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, and global health governance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Graça Machel</span> Mozambican humanitarian activist and politician

Graça Machel is a Mozambican politician and humanitarian. She is the widow of former President of Mozambique Samora Machel (1975–1986) and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela (1998–2013). Machel is an international advocate for women's and children's rights and was made an honorary Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997 for her humanitarian work. She is the only woman in modern history to have served as First Lady of two countries, South Africa and Mozambique.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nuba Mountains</span> Geographic area in Sudan

The Nuba Mountains, also referred to as the Nuba Hills, is an area located in South Kordofan, Sudan. The area is home to a group of indigenous ethnic groups known collectively as the Nuba peoples. In the Middle Ages, the Nuba mountains had been part of the Nubian kingdom of Alodia. In the 18th century, they became home to the kingdom of Taqali that controlled the hills of the mountains until their defeat by Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad. After the British defeated the Mahdi army, Taqali was restored as a client state. Infiltration of the Messiria tribe of Baggara Arabs has been influential in modern conflicts. Up to 1.5 million people live in the mountains, mostly ethnic Nuba, with a small minority of Baggara.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thomas Anthony Dooley III</span> American physician

Thomas Anthony Dooley III was an American physician who worked in Southeast Asia at the outset of American involvement in the Vietnam War. While serving as a physician in the United States Navy and afterwards, he became known for his humanitarian and anti-communist political activities up until his early death from cancer. After his death, the public learned that he had been recruited as an intelligence operative by the Central Intelligence Agency, and numerous descriptions of atrocities by the Viet Minh in his book Deliver Us From Evil had been fabricated.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paul Farmer</span> American medical anthropologist and physician (1959–2022)

Paul Edward Farmer was an American medical anthropologist and physician. Farmer held an MD and PhD from Harvard University, where he was a University Professor and the chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He was the co-founder and chief strategist of Partners In Health (PIH), an international non-profit organization that since 1987 has provided direct health care services and undertaken research and advocacy activities on behalf of those who are sick and living in poverty. He was professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yerevan State Medical University</span> Medical university in Yerevan, Armenia

The Mkhitar Heratsi Yerevan State Medical University, is an Armenian medical university located in Yerevan, Armenia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Catherine Hamlin</span> Australian obstetrician and gynecologist (1924–2020)

Elinor Catherine Hamlin, AC, FRCS, FRANZCOG, FRCOG was an Australian obstetrician and gynaecologist who, with her husband, New Zealander Reginald Hamlin, co-founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, the world's only medical centre dedicated exclusively to providing free obstetric fistula repair surgery to poor women with childbirth injuries. They also co-founded an associated non-profit organisation, Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">K. M. Cherian (doctor)</span> Indian heart surgeon

K. M. Cherian, in full Kotturathu Mammen Cherian, is an Indian heart surgeon. He performed India's first coronary artery bypass surgery and first heart Lung transplant. and is considered a pioneer of pediatric cardiac surgery in the country. He is also a former honorary surgeon to the President of India and a Padma Shri awardee.

Marilyn McHarg, is a humanitarian executive. She was President and CEO of Dignitas International, as well as a founding member and General Director of the Canadian section of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) / Doctors Without Borders, the world's leading independent medical humanitarian organization.

Medical missions in China by Catholic and Protestant physicians and surgeons of the 19th and early 20th centuries laid many foundations for modern medicine in China. Western medical missionaries established the first modern clinics and hospitals, provided the first training for nurses, and opened the first medical schools in China. Work was also done in opposition to the abuse of opium. Medical treatment and care came to many Chinese who were addicted, and eventually public and official opinion was influenced in favor of bringing an end to the destructive trade. By 1901, China was the most popular destination for medical missionaries. The 150 foreign physicians operated 128 hospitals and 245 dispensaries, treating 1.7 million patients. In 1894, male medical missionaries comprised 14 percent of all missionaries; women doctors were four percent. Modern medical education in China started in the early 20th century at hospitals run by international missionaries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Denis Mukwege</span> Congolese gynecologist and Nobel laureate (born 1955)

Denis Mukwege is a Congolese gynecologist and Pentecostal pastor. He founded and works in Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, where he specializes in the treatment of women who have been raped by armed rebels. In 2018, Mukwege and Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist Nadia Murad were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict".

Gidel is a town in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. It is the location of Mother of Mercy Hospital where Tom Catena practices.

Mark Gerson is an American investor, businessman, and philanthropist. He co-founded the Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG) and Thuzio. Gerson is also involved in philanthropic organizations African Mission Healthcare Foundation and United Hatzalah.

Gurumukh Sajanmal Sainani is an Indian general physician, medical researcher, medical writer and an Emeritus Professor of the National Academy of Medical Sciences. He is a former director of the All India Heart Foundation and the incumbent director of Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai. He is a recipient of the highest Indian award in the medical category, Dr. B. C. Roy Award, from the Medical Council of India and the rank of Honorary Brigadier from the President of India. The Government of India awarded him the fourth highest civilian award of the Padma Shri in 2000.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Catholic Medical Mission Board</span>

The Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) is an international, faith-based NGO, providing long-term, co-operative medical and development aid to communities affected by poverty and healthcare issues. It was established in 1912 and officially registered in 1928. CMMB is headquartered in New York City, USA, and currently has country offices in Haiti, Kenya, Peru, South Sudan, and Zambia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity</span> Award

The Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity is an international humanitarian award recognizing individuals for humanitarian work. It is awarded on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian genocide.

Jason Fader is an American medical missionary who serves in the nation of Burundi. In 2016, Fader was the inaugural winner of the L’Chaim Prize for Outstanding Christian Medical Missionary Service. Fader has worked in Kenya. He currently serves as the assistant medical director for Kibuye Hope Hospital. With the 2016 L'Chaim Prize, Fader intends to build a new ward in the hospital, expand its current laboratories, and buy orthopedic equipment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mirza Dinnayi</span>

Mirza Dinnayi — Iraqi writer and Yazidi social activist, Aurora Humanitarian Award 2019 laureate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Lee Tae-seok</span> South Korean Roman Catholic priest

John Lee Tae-seok, SDB was a South Korean Catholic missionary priest, teacher, architect, doctor, and brass band conductor.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Bartholet, Jeffrey. "Doctor in a Desperate Land". Foreign Policy. Retrieved July 2, 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Morton, Gordon (March 14, 2013). "Man on a Mission". Brown School of Engineering. Brown Alumni Magazine. Archived from the original on March 17, 2016. Retrieved July 2, 2015.
  3. "Hospital in Nuba Mountains losing nurses to INGOs in Yida". Radio Tamazuj. Archived from the original on July 3, 2015. Retrieved July 2, 2015.
  4. 1 2 Knaup, Horand (April 3, 2012). "Africa's Forgotten War: The Bloody, Invisible Battle for South Kordofan". Spiegel Online International.
  5. Ponsford, Matthew (June 1, 2017), Quit dithering, says last doctor in Sudan's Nuba mountains  Reuters .
  6. Kristof, Nicholas (June 27, 2015) How to Help Dr. Tom Catena The New York Times .
  7. "The Nuba Mountains Doctor - Vatican News". January 2, 2020. Retrieved January 14, 2020.
  8. "A place to 'get your hands dirty,' says Amsterdam native serving as doctor in Sudan". The Evandelist. January 7, 2016. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Dr. Tom Catena. Sudan Relief Fund.
  10. Lynch, Amy (October 20, 2016) Tom Catena: Man on a mission.
  11. 1 2 Walker, Knez; Louszko, Ashley and Mittal, Pavni (April 12, 2018), What it is like being the only doctor in war-torn Sudan’s Nuba Mountains. ABC News .
  12. 1 2 Reeves, Eric (March 9, 2013). "An interview with Dr. Tom Catena concerning the Nuba Mountains, and a humanitarian update on the region". Sudan Reeves. Retrieved July 2, 2015.
  13. 1 2 Ohanesian, Adriane (April 15, 2015) Tom Catena. Time magazine. The 100 most influential people. Accessed June 29, 2015.
  14. 1 2 3 4 Bartholet, Jeffrey (May 14, 2014). "Q&A: Doctor Describes How Sudanese Bombers Terrorized Hospital". National Geographic. Archived from the original on May 15, 2014.
  15. McClenaghan, Maeve and McVeigh, Tracy (May 20, 2012), Conflict in Nuba mountains may lead to devastating epidemics, say doctors The Guardian .
  16. 1 2 3 Kristof, Nicholas (June 27, 2015) 'He’s Jesus Christ' The New York Times .
  17. Straziuso, Jason (May 5, 2014), US doctor: Sudan dropped 11 bombs near hospital The San Diego Union-Tribune .
  18. 2024 Theodore Roosevelt Award: Dr. Tom Catena National Collegiate Athletic Association, press release of 13 December 2023.
  19. "Citations for the Four 2022 Honorary Degree Recipients". Retrieved May 11, 2022.
  20. "He's been called the world's most important doctor—at least to more than a million patients".
  21. The Heart of Nuba Tells of Catholic Doctor’s Service and Selflessness Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB).
  23. "Aurora Prize nominee Tom Catena awarded with YSMU Honorary Doctor title". Retrieved May 11, 2022.
  24. Brown awards eight honorary doctorates. (May 29, 2016)
  25. Tom Catena, MD Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB).
  26. Transcript of CNN NEWSROOM, Aired March 28, 2018 – 02:00 ET CNN